The following is a list of recent resources for those focused on the professional improvement of teachers, principals, and other educational leaders.

FIRST 2017: The Institute(s) for Better Learning  Don’t miss the opportunity to attend the FIRST 2017: The Institute(s) for Better Learning coming to West Aurora High School in Aurora, IL this June. This institute has been offered in Wisconsin the past two summers with incredible reviews. Space is limited, so please do not delay in registering your and/or your team!

 A New Era for School Accountability  The U.S. Senate, by a 50 to 49 vote yesterday, all but sounded the death knell for Obama administration regulations governing how states must carry out school-accountability requirements under federal law. So, what exactly does this mean for states and schools, and what happens now?  (The Atlantic)

What You Need To Know About Illinois’ Replacement For No Child Left Behind Law  A new way of rating and supporting schools was approved by the Illinois State Board of Education on Wednesday, and the decision will mark a shift in the way the state will evaluate schools in the years to come. Ben Boer, Deputy Director of Advance Illinois, discusses the major changes in the Every Student Succeeds Act.  (WBEZ)

This Rural Town Shows the Real Costs of Our Broken School Funding System  Bob Dolgan, Communications Director of Advance Illinois, discusses the consequences of Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation school funding formula with Sandoval School District Superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Garrison and educator, Jeremy Jett. (Education Post)

English Language Learners: How Our State Is Doing  5 Million Voices, a research project focused on the treatment and school progress of English Learners (EL), shares how Illinois stacks up to other states. Claudio Sanchez discusses the EL gap, teacher shortages, and placement of gifted ELs. (NPR Ed)

Illinois House Panel Seeks School Funding Reform Proposal  The latest group of Illinois lawmakers to tackle the way the state finances public schools hopes to propose a new funding model and approve it this spring. The House panel, which met for the first time Tuesday, aims to pick up where members say a previous commission convened by Gov. Bruce Rauner left off. (Associated Press)

Postcards to Combat Absenteeism  The School District of Philadelphia spent the 2015-2016 school year studying the effects of good old snail-mail on absenteeism. Families that were sent a postcard with the number of total absences for their child with no distinction between excused and unexcused absences and the school district saw positive gains in school attendance. This small investment has already started to be replicated in other districts. (Wolfman-Arent, Newsworks)

Emerging State Leaders:  Leading Change and Influencing People  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Care State Capacity Building Center is accepting applications for a new cohort of its state leaders peer learning forum, Emerging State Leaders: Leading Change and Influencing People.

Knock, Knock—It’s the Principal  Carroll Magnet Middle School Principal Elizabeth MacWilliams (Raleigh, N.C.) was recently featured on NBC News due to her incredible plan to visit every one of her 1,003 students in their home this year. Featured on their “inspiring America” segment, she says she does it to connect with parents. “We mistake their absence for a lack of interest, and I found that’s not the case,” she said (Hui, The News & Observer).

Radical Change for Struggling Schools? It’s Reliably Doable. In education, few questions matter more than what to do for students stuck in enduringly terrible schools. Such schools produce more dropouts than graduates; they are associated with violence, community disorganization, and blunted futures for children. (Washington Post, March 7)

50-State Comparison:  Vouchers This comprehensive resource, 50-State Comparison: Vouchers, explores voucher programs and policies in all states and examines how individual states approach items such as assessment requirements, enrollment limits and student eligibility, among others.  Accountability for private schools receiving public dollars is often an area of interest for policymakers. Of the 14 states plus the District of Columbia (D.C.) with voucher programs, nine states plus D.C., have programs requiring participating students to take either a state assessment or a nationally-standardized assessment.

How Can So Many Students Be Invisible? Large Percentage of American Students Perform Above Grade Level  The purpose of this policy brief is to answer the following foundational question, which should be considered by policymakers and school administrators well before adopting curricula or assessments: How many students perform above grade level?  (John Hopkins Institute for Education Policy)

Not Just School Lunch–Federal Initiatives to Improve Student Nutrition  In honor of National Nutrition Month, our latest Ed Note blog post comes from Alyssa Rafa, a policy researcher at Education Commission of the States, and discusses a variety of federal initiatives to improve school meal programs, incorporate local foods and feed kids when school is out.

Teachers in schools with strong organizational capacity feel more prepared to teach Common Core standards  As schools across the country begin implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of the most significant education initiatives of the last decade, a new study shows that teachers in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with high levels of organizational capacity, such as teacher collaboration, instructional leadership, and teacher influence, are more likely to report feeling prepared to teach the new standards.

English Language Learners: How Your State Is Doing Based on the most recent data available, NPR found that no matter where they go to school, most ELLs are struggling because they have little or no access to quality instruction tailored to their needs. (NPR, February 23)

Illinois Education Superintendent on School Funding, Standards  Nearly everyone agrees that Illinois’ school funding formula needs retooling, and the state’s contending with both a new federal administration as well as a new federal education law. Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Tony Smith, shares his perspectives on the challenges and road to solutions with Chicago Tonight.  (WTTW Chicago)

Is Charter School Growth Flatlining?  A recently released annual update from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools included a surprising finding that the growth of charter schools is on the decline. In no year since the Alliance began tracking new charter openings has the total number of new schools been so low. What’s driving the flatline? (Education Next)

States Wrangle Over K-12 Funding Formulas  Illinois makes the list of states to watch this year for fundamental changes to its school funding formula. The story explores the budget deficits and lawsuits that affect the funding work and compares the progress of Illinois to that of states in similar positions. (Education Week)

To Help Students, Empower Principals  Kenwood Academy High School principal Gregory Jones (Chicago) is just one of the nation’s school leaders making a difference to students by creating a sense of community and holding their students accountable. Kenwood’s graduation rate “reached 85 percent last year, up from 74 percent in 2012, the year Jones arrived.” In David Leonhardt’s New York Times Op-Ed, he says, “To Fix Schools, Go Get the Principal” (Lott, New York Times photo).

Attracting Master Teachers for the Neediest Schools  San Antonio Independent School District is on a mission to attract and retain master teachers by providing incentives for after school instruction and providing enhanced leadership and professional learning opportunities. The school district acknowledged that this new structure for pay may be controversial, but that many teachers are already doing this work and now there will be funds to match their efforts. This initiative is partially funded by the Teacher Incentive Fund awarded by the U.S. Department of Education (Kleifgen, Rivard Report).

Best Practices. National Blue Ribbon School applications contain a wealth of information about effective practices.  Find excerpts that are gathered for college- and career-readiness, extended learning opportunities, pre-kindergarten education, arts education, whole child education, professional development, and parent/family engagement.

Do school-improvement grants boost outcomes?  The implementation of improvement models funded by school-improvement grants provided under the Obama administration led to “no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation or college enrollment,” according to a report by the Institute of Education Sciences. Researchers considered data from 270 schools implementing a SIG model.  (T.H.E. Journal, March 13)

Senate Votes to Rescind Obama Rules on School Accountability  The Senate on Thursday voted to end an Obama effort to identify and help struggling schools and students, as President Donald Trump and Republicans work to undo some of his predecessor’s key policies. (U.S. News & World Report, March 9)

Washington—Bill to Improve Students’ Mental Health Moves on in Washington Legislature  The legislation would require schools to provide at least one hour per month for non-academic staff to work on mental health issues. A task force to evaluate schools’ needs for counselors, social workers, and psychologists would also be created. (KUOW, March 7)

DeVos calls for local control, school choice  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently addressed the Council of Great City Schools, where she expressed her support of school choice and local control. “Let’s continue to move power away from Washington, D.C., and into the hands of parents and state and local leaders,” she said.  (The Associated Press, March 13)

Federal budget could cut Education Dept. by $6B  President Donald Trump’s budget proposal could include $6 billion in cuts to the US Department of Education, according to sources familiar with the draft. The final budget proposal is expected this week.  (Education Week Teacher (tiered subscription model), March 13)

New Education Think Tank Debuts In D.C.  There’s a new education policy think tank in town that says it will offer research on what’s best for students, rather than pursue “ideological agendas or adult self-interests.” The independent think tank, known as FutureEd, will be housed at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. It launches today with K-12 analysis on Indiana’s school voucher program and how it could look as a national model, Education Secretary DeVos’ education and political ties, and an argument for holding schools accountable using chronic absenteeism. Several higher education projects are also in the works.

Summer Design Program (SDP)  Since its launch in 2013, educators from 140 Chicago public schools have participated in SDP. The SDP is a unique professional development opportunity that offers school teams the space, time and expertise to design innovative solutions to some of their most pressing challenges.

Children’s Cabinet Update  Governor Rauner’s Cabinet on Children and Youth met March 9th. The Cabinet discussed updates on its three current projects:  Reducing Childhood Lead Burden, Apprenticeships, and Early Childhood Workforce Development.   The next Cabinet meeting is Thursday, June 8, 2017 1 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

The National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools  What are the components of effective high schools? What types of programs, practices, and processes support these components? How can districts scale up these components to less effective high schools?  These are the questions around which the National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools (NCSU) is working.